Tuesday 20 February 2018

How to save your office reputation when you disgrace yourself at the Christmas party

Disgraced yourself at the annual office Christmas party? Rhymer Rigby asks the experts how to hold on to your dignity - and your job

Working the night shift: A scene from Office Christmas Party PICTURE: PARAMOUNT PICTURES
Working the night shift: A scene from Office Christmas Party PICTURE: PARAMOUNT PICTURES

Rhymer Rigby

At this time of year there's plenty of advice out there telling you not to get absolutely slaughtered at the company Christmas do. But what happens if you don't heed it? What happens if you're the person who is two drinks ahead of everyone else, not two behind? How do you explain your behaviour the next day if you were the one who called your boss a w***** or tried to snog Rachel in sales?

Bad behaviour is surprisingly prevalent at company dos. According to a CIPD survey in the UK, one in 10 workers knows someone who has been disciplined or sacked for inappropriate Christmas party behaviour. The top three transgressions are fighting, threatening behaviour and sexual harassment.

Closer to home, in a survey by Peninsula Ireland, more than a third of Irish workers admit that the free bar at the office Christmas party has led to a sexual encounter.

So, you wake up with a pounding head and a gummy mouth, to which your shrivelled brain quickly adds the memory of something awful. You want to crawl back under your duvet and hide until January, but unfortunately this is not an option. There's the rest of December to get through and you need to face the music, even if the music will be colleagues' laughter or, worse, their anger. "If you behaved very badly, you have to hold your hands up and admit you were in the wrong," says author and personal branding expert Jennifer Holloway. "Putting your head in the sand and pretending it didn't happen is not an option." Start by asking yourself how bad your behaviour really was. Be realistic and try and have a bit of perspective. If you've just been a bit stupid or annoying, you're probably okay. Also, how drunk was everyone else and what is your company culture like? These are important as they supply the context: if everyone else was almost as drunk as you and your company has a work-hard play-hard culture, you might still get away with it. Your table dance that ended with 30 broken glasses might be forgotten by the New Year.

If in doubt, sound out a trusted colleague. They will also be a good port of call if you can't remember what it is you did and just have a black space and a nagging sense of dread where the end of the evening should be.

Next up - the apology. Richard Maun, author of Bouncing Back And How To Keep Your Job, suggests there are two appropriate levels of apology, depending on the severity of the offence. The first, for serious but not monumental missteps, might be a bottle of wine (or other gift) and a sincere face-to-face acknowledgement of your poor conduct. "Say something like, 'I'm sorry, I was an idiot to say that and I'd like to apologise'." The second level, he adds, involves writing a letter. "This lets you get your thoughts down on paper, formulate what you want to say and allows you to manage the conversation."

Flash dance: Like in Mad Men, it may not be so bad if everyone is jolly
Flash dance: Like in Mad Men, it may not be so bad if everyone is jolly

You then hand it to the boss or colleague you offended the minute you see them. "Apologies are very hard to do and this looks like a proper gesture, provides you with a bit of theatre and makes an impact."

In terms of the content of your letter, along with the fulsome mea culpa, Maun suggests you might ask the other person to nominate a charity to which you'll donate a sum of money by way of apology. This shows sincere contrition (it's costing you something) and it also sends out the right sort of message about the kind of person you really are.

In both cases, the idea is that you draw a line under your misdeed and this allows you to move on.

If, however, they do not accept your apology, the best tactic is to apologise again and say: "I understand I overstepped the mark and you are angry - what can I do to make this right?" This, at least, puts the ball in their court - and means they are the one who is preventing rapprochement.

In tandem with all this, there is a second problem to consider, and this is that your behaviour may constitute gross misconduct. Here, you need to tread very carefully.

"If you resign straight away, you have no comeback and you won't even be able to claim jobseeker's allowance. You may be better off throwing yourself at the mercy of your employer's disciplinary system," says Maun. This tack is also worth bearing in mind too if there is uncertainty about what happened or mitigating circumstances.

Someone may have flirted with you all evening and then claimed harassment when you leaned in to kiss them; that punch you swung might have been after horrendous provocation; that term of abuse could have been misconstrued.

In fact, in some circumstances, taking the formal disciplinary route and getting a written warning can be the best way out of a very bad situation.

In the medium term, Holloway says you should view repairing a damaged reputation rather like improving your Google search results. If there's a load of negative stuff on the first page, you want to push all that down on to page two or three.

The best way to do this is to become better known for your positive achievements. If you give enough brilliant presentations, people will quickly start to forget you were sick all over the table at the party.

In the longer term, she adds, you should absolutely not repeat the performance the following year.

"As soon as the Christmas season comes round again, memories will start to flood back and people reminisce. Stories will get retold."

Here, the last thing you want to do is reinforce this memory.

Of course, some incidents are never forgotten. Even this is not necessarily a disaster. A bit of notoriety can make you stand out as a character and, if you have the right kind of personality (and work in the right kind of company), you could conceivably turn this to your advantage.

However, if whatever it is you did is just cringe-inducing and embarrassing and awful - the so-called 'career-limiting move' - you may be better off looking for another job where you can start with a clean slate.

Irish Independent

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